Brexit breakthrough still out of reach on fisheries
EU and UK officials will continue their last-minute negotiations in Brussels today with the EU signalling that persistent differences over fisheries could mean an agreement is not reached in time for 31 December, when the Brexit transition period ends.
The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, told member states that the UK’s latest offer on granting European vessels access to British waters is not acceptable.
But he said the EU would give the negotiations a final push.
It emerged that there have been a number of phone calls in recent days between European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and these are expected to continue.
Despite the hardening position on fisheries, some diplomats and officials on the EU side have said a Brexit deal could be struck by tomorrow.
That is the last point by which any treaty can come into force on 1 January – even provisionally.
The European Parliament said the deadline has long since passed for MEPs to formally ratify an agreement, so any deal would have to be provisionally applied.
Both sides would have to agree to this, and getting provisional application over the line has its own procedural obligations.
Officials from member states will today spend at least four hours being appraised of the contents of what has been agreed so far, but they will not be allowed to see any draft legal texts.
It all gives the impression of a last minute intensification of activity.
But with a breakthrough still out of reach on fisheries and a number of other outstanding issues, negotiators could well be talking beyond Christmas Day.
If that is the case, then even if a deal is struck right before 31 December, there would still be a short No Deal outcome in January.